Monday, May 28, 2007

Vos from Wales

Stephen 'Jonathan Edwards is my Home Boy' Barton got his name from his 'Jonathan Edwards is my Home Boy' t-shirt. Perhaps there could be a range of t-shirts featuring famous preachers/theologians? If there was, I would buy my father the 'Geerhardus Vos is my Home Boy' shirt.
I'm posting my first blog update ever from Wales. After a few days in the south catching up with family, taking in a wedding, I'm now in the north staying with my parents. My Dad's a big Vos fan and put Grace and Glory in front of me this morning. In the chapter 'Heavenly Mindedness', Vos speaks of the connection between faith (and understanding the end of faith) and our mission...

A religion that has ceased to set its face towards the celestial city is bound sooner or later to discard also all supernatural resources in its endeavour to transform this present world.
Three things struck me (not immediately - I have been reflecting!):

  • Vos connects the mission of Christ's church to its understanding of the goal of salvation; this is interesting because I think that there is a strong tendency to 'spiritualise' the goal of our salvation (following good old Plato): the end of salvation becomes 'going to heaven when we die', an intensely spiritualised and individualised salvation, rather than the holistic, corporate and cosmic salvation that we see in the Bible;

  • Vos' warning has been realised to a great extent in the rise of the liberal social gospel in Welsh Christianity; but

  • Vos' assertion that Christianity should aim to transform this present world might seem a million miles away from some strands of Welsh evangelicalism that have tended towards a similar Platonic dualism in emphasising spiritual piety rather than the Kuyperian vision of transforming works of mercy, cultural renewal and public theology.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Image of God

We had two Systematics essays this semester: one on the Imago Dei and the other on Assurance. No controversy there then! I hope to reflect on my essays and second semester modules (Former Prophets, Jesus and the Gospels, Introduction to Systematics, Greek Grammar I) after the exams...pause whilst elation of final assignment submission is subsumed under growing realisation that exams are approaching...but before that I wanted to quote this excellent quote (some of which appeared in my essay) from Waltke's Genesis commentary (a former Book of the Moment no less). I quoted another excellent quote from Waltke before, but anyway, here's this one:
The image is not erased after the Fall, but continues seminally to every individual. However, after the Fall the first Adam (and all of humanity) can only partially fulfill the cultural mandate: procreating and subduing in sorrowful toil. Only Christ, the Second Adam, can completely fulfill the regent function of the image. The One who is uniquely the express image of God's person, the heavenly Son of Man and Rider of the Clouds, is the true Image, and so God's True King on earth. He brings salvation to fallen humanity. He completes perfectly humanity's twofold function.
Waltke, Genesis, 70

Evangelicals and Eschatology, Act Four

This is the final Act of my reflections on the recent 'Evangelicals and Eschatology' Conference at St Andrews University on 30 April 2007. In introducing the conference, Professor Stephen Holmes explained that it was the visit of Professor George Marsden to St Andrews that was the impetus behind the conference being arranged. Prof Marsden is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, an independent, national Catholic university based in Notre Dame, Indiana. He teaches American Religious and Intellectual History along with other related subject matters and is the author of a 'Jonathan Edwards: A Life' and of 'Fundamentalism and American Culture: the Shaping of 20th Century Evangelicalism'. Apparently, he is a graduate of Westminister. His paper was entitled 'Does Eschatology Make a Difference? American Political Fundamentalism.'

Now, whether Professor Marsden had an off-day (there's only so much you can blame on a pizza) I don't know, but his paper just didn't grab me. He spoke laconically on the connections between the American religious right, politics and eschatological views. He used his definition of a fundamentalist: 'a fundamentalist is an evangelical who's angry about something'. He also related the revivalist Billy Sunday's statement during World War I: 'If you turn hell over, you'll find it has 'Made in Germany' stamped underneath.' At the time I remember thinking that some uncharitable and opinionated theologians might see that as a good way to sum up German theology! But not me, I might hasten to add: Vorsprung durch deutsche Theologie. Anyway, Prof Marsden gave a summary of the formation of the Fundamentalist movement; he pointed out that there has always been an inconsistency in dispensationalist prophecies of doom and decline and the energetic attempts of the Right to keep American society Christian. He explained that the old consensus was showing signs of weakness, that the traditional lines of eschatological views and political views were being blurred. If American Evangelicalism is becoming more prone to independent thought away from the Right (this is me talking), that can only be a good thing. The astonishing (for me) number of US students there would probably have found this a whole lot more relavant that I did. But, it was a good listen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Community of Faith and Scholarship

The latest newsletter from HTC has hit the web. It contains news of the revalidation of the BA course after the Theology Subject Review, and Dr Jamie Grant's trip to teach at the University of Beijing.

Only God Could Ask

'Only God could ask what Jesus demands', Father Gerry O'Collins whilst speaking about Pope Benedict's New Book 'Jesus of Nazareth' on Today, Radio 4, 15 May.
In the interview (which you can still hear on the Today website, 24m30s into the 0830-0900 audio file) the reason for the Pope's writing the book is given as defending the authenticity of the gospel accounts against modern trends towards saying that we can know nothing about the historical Jesus. In the interview, Father O'Collins says about the Pope's book:
'I think he's engaged much more with scholars that he thinks are giving the impression that we don't know much about Jesus. I think he's not aware that there are many scholars who say that we do know a great deal - in this country, the United Kingdom, you've got people like Richard Bauckham at St Andrews and Graham Stanton at Cambridge and Jimmy Dunn up in Durham and Bishop Tom Wright of course - a whole bunch of outstanding Bible scholars. And they certainly think we can know a great deal about Jesus and that this is very important for our faith.'
O'Collins point is that the Pope has more allies than he thinks. The Pope aims his guns at Von Harnack and Bultmann - 'Bultmann didn't think that knowing anything about Jesus was very important to faith' - and not Dan Brown, so this is a book moving in the world of the scholar more than popular culture. O'Collins goes on to say,
'he engages with other scholars, like CK Barrett, a great scholar of John here in England, and writes very approvingly of him.'
Apparently, Pope Benedict also doesn't think John's gospel was written by John. Interesting... A rare and welcome bit of theology on the Today programme!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Evangelicals and Eschatology, Act Three

Jeremy J Wynne (PhD Aberdeen) was up in the 'graveyard slot' (post-lunch sopporiphic haze....actually, for me, after a very rare pizza - the only pizza place here is my own kitchen - in Pizza Express with Dr Bird and Patrick from the US...Mmmm that Fiorentina was belissima...) doing 'Charles G. Finney, the Rhetoric of Wrath, and the Challenge of a Robust Doctrine of God'. Anyway, JJ Wynne was an excellent speaker presentationally. However, and I blame the haze and my ignorance about Finney for this, I struggled to stay with his argument at points. I think the Chairman did too, since his attempt to summarise Mr Wynne's proposition at the end was apparently inaccurate! So, my attempted very brief summary is below (notes a bit sparse due to Fiorentina in stomach)...

The wrath of God can be a fluid notion. Finney was not theologically trained, but trained as a lawyer. His emphasis was on the wrath of God as a means to convert people and increase their sense of urgency. Finney drew the substance and methodology for his consideration of the wrath of God, and for his view of God generally, from moral philosophy. Hence, Finney projected the 'attributes of love' from human beings onto God. His ideas of wrath were the same - death was to him the end of God's patience with the sinner (he cast death as finally 'dragging away the sinners soul' into hell). This approach is not unknown in some evangelical circles. However, our conception of God's wrath should be 'reconfigured' around our doctrine of God. Preachers ought not merely to threaten wrath on sinners. A more rounded concept of wrath would include the concept of wrath being visited on sin at conversion.

I realise this is not a particularly brilliant summary - if someone has more on Jeremy's paper, please let me know...

Again, there was a concurrent paper but I was struggling to be in one place, let alone two. The paper? Oh yes, it was Ralph Korner (Edmonton, Canada): 'Understanding the Structure of the Book of Revelation: Don't Be Left Behind'.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

How to Motivate Students in Class

This photo of Dr Mike Bird was taken shortly before seminars were due in the Jesus and the Gospels class at good ole HTC. And I can report that everyone turned up and presented without fail! You think I'm joking....?

You think right. But, check out the original post on the Pre-Christian Michael Bird here. It contains the immortal line:

From now I am only a soldier of Christ and I carry a NA27 instead of an M-60 - Amen!

As for me I've just bought my weapon of choice, a UBS4 and I'm learning how to use that safety on?! How about another Word-Weaponry allusion in the tradition of Paul:

Ah Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Is it for nothing our chapels were christened
with Hebrew names? The Book rusts
in the empty pulpits above empty
pews, but the Word ticks inside
remorselessly as the bomb that is timed soon to go off.
Waiting, RS Thomas, in Welsh Airs, 1987

Friday, May 11, 2007

Evangelicals and Eschatology, Act Two

Act Two is Dr Michael Bird's paper: 'Evangelicals and Apocalyptic Eschatology'. There follows my short summary...
Albert Schweitzer countered liberal theology's view of a rationalistic, romantic, love and brotherhood Jesus with his own identification of Jesus as a Jewish, apocalyptic prophet (in Quest of the Historical Jesus). Schweitzer saw Jesus as expecting that the crucial hour had arrived for God's kingdom to come and when it didn't, he tried to force God's hand by precipitating his own death. He tried to roll the wheel of history forward - instead it rolled back and crushed him - Jesus was wrong, but gloriously wrong. A couple of things about Schweitzer:
  • Schweitzer’s ideology sought to destroy the liberal German Jesus but also to show the impossibility of maintaining Jesus’ eschatology in the modern world
  • Schweitzer's innovation was not the discovery of apocalyticism or eschatology but his making apocalypticism the centre around which all of Jesus’ teachings revolved
Evangelicals have seen Schweitzer's apocalyptic Jesus as a mixed blessing: pros - rebuttal of liberal theology, Jesus' eschatological expectation (Vos gave a positive review); cons - Jesus becomes a deluded apocalyptic visionary. We can follow Schweitzer in the pro's but not in the con's. But we need to deal with the question: did Jesus predict the end of the world within a lifetime?
The Son of Man sayings can be seen in terms of 'vindication' for the people of God. Hence Mark 13 can be interpreted as referring to the desctruction of the temple in 70CE (and no event s beyond that), as a judgement of Israel and vindication of Jesus and his followers. The apocalyptic language emphasises the significance of this event. However, the language allows (0r demands) application to a broader scenario. The events of 70CE (at Jerusalem - the centre of the cosmos) mark the beginning of God's judgements which will one day involve the nations of the world for the salvation of the elect. Did Jesus see beyond?
  • he spoke of a future resurrection;
  • the gospel must be preached to all nations (in M13);
  • according to Luke the 2nd coming is predicated on the ascension;
  • the clearest mention of a second coming from Jesus is in John 14 and 21;
  • Jesus is remembered as predicting a cataclysmic event that Paul believes is significant for believers (1Th4:15-17).
Meg Ramey presented a concurrent paper entitled 'Left Behind No More: Preterist Interpretation of Revelation in the 'Last Disciple' Series. But, I couldn't be in both places at once...

John Piper is Bad

My estwhile fellow student Stephen 'Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy' Barton has pointed me to John Piper's latest collaboration with Michael Jackson, featuring Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. It is bad (goodbad) - whether he is bad, I can only point to 1 Cor 6:11:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. NASB

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Reflections on Bebbington

One of the things that struck me in Prof Bebbington's paper was the mention of the post-millenial eschatological thought in Wales. Wales is often the forgotten nation, so quoting Calvinistic Methodists Thomas Charles (whilst not in an entirely positive way - which I might concur with) and William Williams was well received by me! Of course you know the post-mill heritage is there, but it's nice when someone else notices! Some time ago I read Iain Murray's 'Puritan Hope' which influenced my own thoughts...but that was a long time ago and my thoughts have moved on. However, post-mill is still where I'd put myself: I need to re-evaluate this position to see if it still 'fits' with where I am now. The emphasis that the Calvinistic Methodists placed on bringing in the millenium through proclamation and attendant social action led to great days for Christianity in Wales. I'd like to see Reformed Christianity in Wales develop in the line of its roots - with a post-millenial eschatology and attendant motivation and programme. It's also interesting to see the thematic links between the traditional post-mill view and some of the thought coming out of Emergent with regards to the eschaton. But, that's not history, it's the now...

Evangelicals and Eschatology, Act One, Scene Two

Continuing my report of Prof David Bebbington's paper at the above conference... Scene Two: the debates around the parousia specific to evangelicalism.

The Reformers gave little time to millenial expectations. In fact, Calvin branded millenarians as 'ignorant fanatics'. There was a general amillenial consensus during the century of the Reformation, reflected in the notes to Revelation in the Geneva Bible and the WCFs silence on the millenium. Literal post- and pre- millenial views sprang up in the 17th century. Civil war led to openess to apocalyptic speculation and Puritan thought followed this trajectory. Jonathan Edwards saw the revivals as pre-cursors to the millenium, which he expected would come within 250 years. The French Revolution in this context was seen as the fall of Antichrist in France. This fledgling post-millenial eschatology was a Christian version of the 'idea of progress' spawned by the Enlightenment. It was a 'very this-wordly view of eschatology', but it drove foreign mission and social action, for example with Thomas Chalmers.

In the 1820s there were the first stirrings of pre-millenial eschatology. It has become more fashionable to focus upon the sudden and the supernatural, which was favourable to a cataclysmic view of 'the end'. Pre-mill spread slowly; Edward Irvine, Horatius Bonar and Lord Shaftsbury took up the cause. The penchant was then to identify historical events with the prophecies of Revelation. The outlook of pre-mill was characterised by pessimism: 'they expected things to go from bad to worse' and was stoutly Protestant. The 1830s saw the roots of Dispensationalism put down. Darby's futurist interpretation identified Israel as the target of the events of Revelation. However, in Wales post-mill remained entirely dominant. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, post-mill broadened and began to focus on the social gospel - the heavenly Jerusalem on earth; the parousia faded from view. The concurrent rise of dispensationalism led to a polarisation. This type of polarisation is seen in the ethea of Inter Varsity Fellowship and the Student Christian Movement. The inter-war years saw a rise in conservativism. WWII and the establishing of the state of Israel encouraged pre-mill opinions. In the post-war years, pre-mill has developed within the rise of conservativism, e.g. under Billy Graham. In Scotland, Reformed theology has maintained its amillenial stance. In Wales, post-mill enjoyed some resurgence under the influence of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray's book 'The Puritan Hope'. Pre-mill has fallen in favour and there has been an unconscious acceptance of the amillenial scheme. In the UK, evangelicals are far less dogmatic on eschatology than in the US.

In conclusion:
  • eschatological beliefs among evangelicals have been deeply affected by intellectual assumptions, e.g. by the Enlightenment belief in progress (post-mill) and by Romanticism (pre-mill);
  • eschatology has affected evangelical culture, e.g. post-mill producing active reform and socio-political efforts; pre-mill producing a quietist pessimism regarding society, but driving evangelism; and amill producing (at least in their own eyes) realism.
'Eschatology has had a remarkably strong sway over evangelical thought.'

next up, Act Two: Dr Michael Bird on 'Evangelicals and Apocalyptic Eschatology'...

Church and Kingdom

...the church is not the kingdom, although the association between the two is close...the church is like the net, containing good fish and bad. The church is like the harvest field, weeds and wheat mixed together. The church is at present a 'mixed economy', and at the end of time the day of judgement will sort it out.

Michael Green, Matthew (Bible Speaks Today), p46

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Evangelicals and Eschatology, Act One, Scene One

On Monday last, I accompanied Doctor Bird on a trip to St Andrews to take in the 'Evangelicals and Eschatology' conference at St Andrews. I thought I would reflect on each of the papers I heard there. The opening Act was from Prof David Bebbington and this was the highest light of the day, personally speaking. As the chairman Prof Stephen Holmes pointed out, Prof Bebbington's grasp of history in general, not just ecclesial, was impressive to say the least. My summary of his paper goes something like this:

Firstly, a brief survey of the common ground held by evangelicals (post 1730...):
  • Judgement and Hell - the association with hell has been disproportionately emphasised by some (e.g. the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist, Thomas Charles: 'I ransacked the livid flames of hell..[to grab the attention of]...unconcerned sinners'). In Anglicanism, the emphasis was on grace, not on ruin, on heaven and not hell. There was a shift from God primarily as Judge to Father during the 2nd part of the 19th century. In general there was less dwelling on the doctrine of hell than evangelical stereotypes might suggest. How did some evangelicals seek to mitigate the perceived problem of hell? Conditional immortality (lately, under Stott); further opportunities for salvation (similar to RC purgatory); all will be saved after posthumous moral discipline. There was more flexibility in teaching on the destination of unbelievers than has been generally recognised.
  • Death - in the early 19th century, death bed accounts are prominent in obituaries, but these are out of fashion by the late 19th. Death was retreating into the private sphere, a process that continued into the 20th.
  • Heaven - heaven was for many in the 18th century the 'death of death' (William Williams). There was a great sense of being in the presence of the Father, and Jesus, but little trace of the resurrection body. Singing was prominent. As death has retreated from our concerns, so has heaven. Prof Bebbington has not heard a sermon on the life to come in 50 years of churchgoing! The modern view of heaven has emerged as focussed on 'no more separation' and 'activity, not rest' - which can be seen as the activism of evangelicals transposed to the future life.
  • These four themes have undergone significant remodelling under the influence of social and intellectual currents.

Secondly, a survey of the evangelical debates surrounding the parousia, specifically its relationship to the millenium - that will follow in Scene Two....

Theology of Transport

No, I haven't been thinking about developing a Theology of Transport for the past two weeks! I've been shut in my study with Saul and David. But what (on earth) would it look like (said Theology of Transport)? Is transport part of the divine intention for man or is it solely a feature of a Fallen world? Transport is about the necessity of journeys, the necessity of work, about the fact that time and resources are limited. But then transport can bring people together, let us explore, experience, discover. Transport in a cursed world often becomes stressful, dangerous, polluting. However we choose to travel, how do we seek the Kingdom of God whilst we do it? The biggest challenge is to car drivers - the two ton metal box is unsurpassed at disconnecting us from other people as human beings. Driving with a Kingdom ethic? What does it look like? We are getting used to asking What Would Jesus Drive? But how about How Would Jesus Drive? Or Would Jesus Drive (Quite So Much)? Many sparsely-occupied cars converging on churches on Sundays (the day precursing (if that's a word) the New and Coming Kingdom, of all days) might not be the best expression of the hopes of the Kingdom. On the Lord's Day, perhaps we should ditch the car (six days shalt thou drive), share lifts (a communal journey of fellowship), walk or cycle? It may be possible!